How To Become a Servant Leader

Leadership Coaching
03/24/21 - Cait Swamy

For many, the word “Leader” evokes images of people in formal positions of power. Leaders hold fancy titles and people follow them because they are obligated to. We assume we have to follow the Leaders’ direction or face the consequences. And this power-centered, authoritarian, and antiquated view on leadership is unfortunately still the norm in some organizations. However, in the past several years, a different and more positive approach to leadership has begun to surface, having profound impacts on employee engagement, company culture, and productivity. What is this magical Leadership style? It’s being a Servant Leader. And guess what? You don’t have to be a formal “Leader” to embrace its essence.  

What is Servant Leadership? 

Servant leadership is a leadership style that puts serving others –  employees, customers, and community – as the number one priority. Simply put, Servant Leaders put the needs of others ahead of their personal agendas. In doing so, Servant Leaders support, motivate and bring a sense of fulfillment to those they are serving. 

Sounds great, right? Yes, but being a Servant Leader is a lifelong journey. I challenge you to think of yourself today as a Servant Leader in training. It takes coaching, reflection and a hard look at oneself, but the payoff is worth it. Through Servant Leadership, our organizations, our communities and society as a whole are better off. 

Attributes of Servant Leadership

This concept of Servant Leadership was introduced to me in Graduate school. As a student, I had the honor of learning directly from Larry Spears. After decades of research in the field, Larry Spears identified 10 attributes that were common to Servant Leaders. While Larry Spears didn’t coin the term, he’s been integral in living out the Legacy of Robert Greenleaf, otherwise known as the Father of Servant Leadership. These attributes are as follows:


Servant Leadership starts with listening. Servant Leaders seek to identify the goals of the group, and clarify those goals. This type of listening is wholehearted, empathetic and requires us to slow down and wait before responding. 


Servant Leaders are deeply empathetic. By the sheer nature of service to others, they step out of themselves and understand the perspectives of others. This means getting to know your team, what makes them tick and leveraging their strengths. 


Servant Leaders heal themselves and their relationships with others to establish healthier bonds. In other words, this is all about creating a healthy and inclusive work environment that gives people the tools they need to be successful and valued. 


Servant Leaders practice a high level of emotional intelligence. This means that they are self-aware and also are aware of others. 


Servant Leaders don’t rely on their authority to reach decisions, they enlighten and convince others without force. They use consensus and get buy-in from the team.   


Servant Leaders are visionaries. They see the world through a myriad of possibilities. They are strategic without losing focus on the day-to-day. 


Servant Leaders have foresight. In other words, they don’t hold a crystal ball, but they do have a keen intuition. They rely heavily on past lessons and current realities to anticipate future outcomes. 


Servant Leaders lead by example. So they have a servant consciousness which guides them. This level of consciousness starts with the understanding that leadership is highly relational. 

Commitment to the Growth of People: 

Servant Leaders are people developers. They are dedicated to the growth of their team. In other words, they invest in people. 

Building Community: 

Teams built on the foundation of trust get more done. Servant Leaders foster a sense of community. They’re committed to diversity, equity, and belonging. 

How To Put This Into Practice

Let me fill you in on a little secret. Servant Leadership isn’t just reserved for people at the top. These leadership qualities are attributes that ANYONE can possess. Each of us, no matter our title, has the opportunity to step up and lead. So, if we first seek to serve the needs of others and THEN take action, we are choosing to be a Servant Leader. 

Listen… Seriously, this is the birthplace of Servant Leadership

Servant Leadership starts with listening. They listen deeply and empathetically to everything said (and unsaid). Too many of us are waiting to jump on the opportunity to respond. Hold back and listen from the heart. 

Be Willing to do the Dirty Work. 

Servant Leaders walk the walk. No task is too small for these leaders. They roll up their sleeves and get shit done.

Be Authentic & Be Consistent. 

Servant Leadership expands to all relationships (clients, customers, family). Make sure to practice consistently with your personal style and be consistent with everyone you serve.

Be Grateful. 

Recognition goes a long way, because there is nothing worse than feeling unseen and unheard. Make a conscious effort to extend gratitude and applaud your team. 

Be Helpful and Take Action.

This looks like actively looking for ways to help and support your team. More importantly, Servant Leaders do this without being asked. 

Why Does it Matter? 

We are more interconnected today than we have ever been before. The pandemic, globalization, and technology have all played a role in spotlighting this interdependence. When people are connected to their work and each other, that is the result of Employee Engagement. So this isn’t just an “HR thing” anymore.

In fact, research has shown that there is a positive correlation between servant Leadership and employee engagement. According to Gallup, Managers account for 70% employee engagement, which demonstrates the power of Servant Leadership. As a result of this, our organizations, our communities, and society as a whole are better off. 

In conclusion, Servant Leadership is a lifelong journey that requires work, but the results are profound. It is my firm belief that the potential for Servant Leadership exists within each of us. So what will you start to implement today to leave the world a slightly better place? 

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